According to The Nation ,Normalcy is expected to return to Aba, the commercial center of Abia state following the expiration of a week-long curfew. The week-long curfew imposed by the Abia state government in Aba following a clash between members of the Indigenous People of Biafra and Nigerian soldiers has finally come to an endThe Nation, Sunny Nwankwo writes about the state of things in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of the state.
It was a nightmarish week marked by military invasion, protests, clashes between secessionist agitators and security forces, and a 12-hour curfew imposed on Aba, the commercial nerve of Abia State. As members of the Independent Peoples of Biafra or IPOB spilled into the streets protesting the army’s incursion in the home of their leader Nnamdi Kanu, the atmosphere in Aba and other parts of the state changed. Transporters began to withdraw from the roads and commuters had a tough time getting around. A curfew on the commercial city followed and everything came to a standstill. Streets were deserted. Shops were slammed shut. For Abia residents, the losses were huge, though some insisted there were gains as well since the curfew imposed by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu helped to prevent an escalation of the crisis.
No one will forget that week in which the image of the IPOB leader Kanu loomed large. A few months to the 2015 general election, Kanu hit the air wave especially in the Southeast where IPOB’s pirate radio station was broadcasting on the FM band. Although the station had been running on the internet for several months, it was learnt that in order to reach a wider audience in the region and beyond, Kanu decided to bring in transmitters.
In one of his visits to Nigeria, Kanu was arrested, tried and remanded at the Kuje Prison, Abuja with other members of his group. After many months in prison he was released after meeting his bail conditions. He soon started crisscrossing the Southeast where he held rallies to reassure his supporters of his commitment to the cause of ending what he described as the marginalisation of the people of the eastern states.
Irked by Kanu’s conduct at most of his rallies and in videos that have gone viral on the internet showing Kanu flouting his bail conditions granted by Justice Binta Nyako, the federal government through the Attorney General of the Federation went to court in August seeking the revocation of the bail conditions.
Before Kanu’s scheduled court appearance on October 17, IPOB members and Kanu’s supporters took to the streets of Umuahia and Aba and other parts of the Southeast protesting the invasion of his house and the killing of IPOB members, among others acts allegedly perpetrated by soldiers in the state.
The clash between the army and IPOB which came on the heels of a planned military operation in the region called Operation Python Dance II, led to the deployment of military personnel and tanks to the state capital and other parts of the state.
As part of measures to contain the crisis brewing in the state especially in Aba, Governor Ikpeazu, after due consultations with the State Security Council, imposed a curfew on the state’s commercial hub.
The curfew, Ikpeazu said, would last from 6pm to 6am.
Meanwhile, the losses of Aba residents were mounting. While some of the respondents thanked the state government for its proactive step to nip in the bud what could have turned Abia and other parts of the country into yet another ethnic and religious crisis capable of degenerating into a civil war, others described the curfew as counterproductive to the economic development of the state.
They also lamented the devastating effect the curfew had on night life in Aba which the commercial city was noted for before the 2010 insecurity challenge of the state.
Investigations revealed that apart from the devastating effects of the curfew on business owners, most churches, corporate organisations and individuals who scheduled various programmes within the period had to call them off indefinitely to forestall nasty eventualities for parishioners and invited guests.
On the third day of the curfew major markets including Ariaria International Market, Cemetery, Shopping Plaza, and Ahia Ohuru, among others, were on Thursday last week forced to close down amid rumours that there were killings and mob attacks in every part of the city.
Major streets and roads such as St. Michaels, Azikiwe, Milverton, Okigwe, Asa, Aba-Owerri Expressway, and Faulks, among others, were deserted as early as 5pm. This, some of the residents said, was to avoid the usual gridlock on most Aba roads which could keep them on the road till the start of the curfew.
Many people who were unable to close early had to trek home due to scarcity of commercial buses and tricycles.
A trader, Festus Madu, described the loss to his business as overwhelming and unquantifiable, stressing that it would take him months to recover. He said that most of the customers who patronise him from other West African countries were yet to start coming to Ariaria International market because of the fear and apprehension that greeted Aba as a result of the unrest.
Corroborating Mr. Madu, a director of a hospitality facility near Ariaria International Market, Mr. Gilbert where some of the traders of other African countries lodged whenever they were in Aba for business claimed that there was a sharp drop in patronage of his facility.
Gilbert warned that a continuation of the curfew and faceoff between the army and IPOB members would continue to have negative effects on the lives and businesses of citizens of the state.
A fast food shop owner along Milverton that simply gave his name as Pius, while speaking with our reporter on Tuesday night, said, “We are happy that the governor has extended the time of the curfew to 10pm, but that will still not be enough. My business is done at night. We start selling food by 8 0’clock in the night to close around 3 to 4am because most persons traveling in the night comes to eat here. Some of the tailors and even bus drivers who work in the night do come here to eat. Passengers whose cars arrived late in the night and may be leave very early in the morning also come here to buy what they eat. But with the curfew still in place, we only have 2 to 3 hours to do our business and since Monday that the curfew was extended, business has been dull. After today, I don’t think I am going to cook again until the curfew is over. But my worry is what I will be doing until the state government announces the end of the curfew because the little money I make from this is what I use to pay for my shop and house rents and to pay for my children’s school fees.”
A man who gave his name as Clinton Uchenna narrating his experience during the curfew said that he nearly lost his wife to illness as there was no means of conveying his wife to the hospital, stating that even his neighbours who saw the conditions of his wife failed to yield to his appeal as they feared of being held by soldiers on their way back from the hospital.
A petty trader said that she had to sleep in the park after they returned late from Oil Mill market, Port Harcourt, Rivers State because she couldn’t get a bus to her place, adding that she couldn’t trek home either because of the curfew.
While commending the state governor and other southeastern governors for taking a proactive step to stop the spread of unrest to other parts of the east, they appealed for calm and urged the Abia State Governor, Dr. Ikpeazu to rescind his decision to impose curfew in the state now that they said it seems that peace have returned in Aba and other parts of the state.